The Marine Leg – Calumet “K”, Chapter 12
On the twenty-second of November Bannon received this telegram:—
Mr. Charles Bannon, care of MacBride & Company, South Chicago:
We send to-day complete drawings for marine tower which you will build in the middle of spouting house. Harahan Company are building the Leg.
MacBride & Co.
Bannon read it carefully, folded it, opened it and read it again, then tossed it on the desk.
“We’re off now, for sure,” he said to Miss Vogel. “I’ve known that was coming sure as Christmas.”
Hilda picked it up.
“Is there an answer, Mr. Bannon?”
“No, just file it. Do you make it out?”
She read it and shook her head. Bannon ignored her cool manner.
“It means that your friends on MacBride & Company’s Calumet house are going to have the time of their lives for the next few weeks. I’m going to carry compressed food in my pockets, and when meal time comes around, just take a capsule.”
“I think I know,” she said slowly; “a marine leg is the thing that takes grain up out of ships.”
“That’s right. You’d better move up head.”
“And we’ve been building a spouting house instead to load it into ships.”
“We’ll have to build both now. You see, it’s getting around to the time when the Pages’ll be having a fit every day until the machinery’s running, and every bin is full. And every time they have a fit, the people up at the office’ll have another, and they’ll pass it on to us.”
“But why do they want the marine leg?” she asked, “any more now than they did at first?”
“They’ve got to get the wheat down by boat instead of rail, that’s all. Or likely it’ll be coming both ways. There’s no telling now what’s behind it. Both sides have got big men fighting. You’ve seen it in the papers, haven’t you?”
“Of course, what the papers say isn’t all true, but it’s lively doings all right.”
The next morning’s mail brought the drawings and instructions; and with them came a letter from Brown to Bannon. “I suppose there’s not much good in telling you to hurry,” it ran; “but if there is another minute a day you can crowd in, I guess you know what to do with it. Page told me to-day that this elevator will make or break them. Mr. MacBride says that you can have all January for a vacation if you get it through. We owe you two weeks off, anyhow, that you didn’t take last summer. We’re running down that C. & S. C. business, though I don’t believe, myself, that they’ll give you any more trouble.”
Bannon read it to Hilda, saying as he laid it down:—
“That’s something like. I don’t know where’ll I go, though. Winter ain’t exactly the time for a vacation, unless you go shooting, and I’m no hand for that.”
“Couldn’t you put it off till summer?” she asked, smiling a little.
“Not much. You don’t know those people. By the time summer’d come around, they’d have forgotten I ever worked here. I’d strike for a month and Brown would grin and say: ‘That’s all right, Bannon, you deserve it if anybody does. It’ll take a week or so to get your pass arranged, and you might just run out to San Francisco and see if things are going the way they ought to,’ And then the first thing I knew I’d be working three shifts somewhere over in China, and Brown would be writing me I was putting in too much time at my meals. No, if MacBride & Company offer you a holiday, the best thing you can do is to grab it, and run, and saw off the telegraph poles behind you. And you couldn’t be sure of yourself then.”
He turned the letter over in his hand.
“I might go up on the St. Lawrence,” he went on. “That’s the only place for spending the winter that ever struck me.”
“Isn’t it pretty cold?”
“It ain’t so bad. I was up there last winter. We put up at a house at Coteau, you know. When I got there the foundation wasn’t even begun, and we had a bad time getting laborers. I put in the first day sitting on the ice sawing off spiles.”
“I shouldn’t think you’d care much about going back.”
“Were you ever there?” he asked.
“No, I’ve never been anywhere but home and here, in Chicago.”
“Where is your home?”
“It was up in Michigan. That’s where Max learned the lumber business. But he and I have been here for nearly two years.”
“Well,” said Bannon, “some folks may think it’s cold up there, but there ain’t anywhere else to touch it. It’s high ground, you know—nothing like this”—he swept his arm about to indicate the flats outside—”and the scenery beats anything this side of the Rockies. It ain’t that there’s mountains there, you understand, but it’s all big and open, and they’ve got forests there that would make your Michigan pine woods look like weeds on a sandhill. And the river’s great. You haven’t seen anything really fine till you’ve seen the rapids in winter. The people there have a good time too. They know how to enjoy life—it isn’t all grime and sweat and making money.”
“Well,” said Hilda, looking down at her pencil and drawing aimless designs as she talked, “I suppose it is a good place to go. I’ve seen the pictures, of course, in the time-tables; and one of the railroad offices on Clark Street used to have some big photographs of the St. Lawrence in the window. I looked at them sometimes, but I never thought of really seeing anything like that. I’ve had some pretty good times on the lake and over at St. Joe. Max used to take me over to Berrien Springs last summer, when he could get off. My aunt lives there.”
Bannon was buttoning his coat, and looking at her. He felt the different tone that had got into their talk. It had been impersonal a few minutes before.
“Oh, St. Joe isn’t bad,” he was saying; “it’s quiet and restful and all that, but it’s not the same sort of thing at all. You go over there and ride up the river on the May Graham, and it makes you feel lazy and comfortable, but it doesn’t stir you up inside like the St. Lawrence does.”
She looked up. Her eyes were sparkling as they had sparkled that afternoon on the elevator when she first looked out into the sunset.
“Yes,” she replied. “I think I know what you mean. But I never really felt that way; I’ve only thought about it.”
Bannon turned half away, as if to go.
“You’ll have to go down there, that’s all,” he said abruptly. He looked back at her over his shoulder, and added, “That’s all there is about it.”
Her eyes were half startled, half mischievous, for his voice had been still less impersonal than before. Then she turned back to her work, her face sober, but an amused twinkle lingering in her eyes.
“I should like to go,” she said, her pencil poised at the top of a long column. “Max would like it, too.”
After supper that evening Max returned early from a visit to the injured man, and told Hilda of a new trouble.
“Do you know that little delegate that’s been hanging around?” he asked.
“Grady,” she said, and nodded.
“Yes, he’s been working the man. I never saw such a change in my life. He just sat up there in bed and swore at me, and said I needn’t think I could buy him off with this stuff”—he looked down and Hilda saw that the bowl in his hand was not empty—”and raised a row generally.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Give it up. From what he said, I’m sure Grady’s behind it.”
“Did he give his name?”
“No, but he did a lot of talking about justice to the down-trodden and the power of the unions, and that kind of stuff. I couldn’t understand all he said—he’s got a funny lingo, you know; I guess it’s Polack—but I got enough to know what he meant, and more, too.”
“Can he do anything?”
“I don’t think so. If we get after him, it’ll just set him worse’n pig’s bristles. A man like that’ll lose his head over nothing. He may be all right in the morning.”
But Hilda, after Max had given her the whole conversation as nearly as he could remember it, thought differently. She did not speak her mind out to Max, because she was not yet certain what was the best course to take. The man could easily make trouble, she saw that. But if Max were to lay the matter before Bannon, he would be likely to glide over some of the details that she had got only by close questioning. And a blunder in handling it might be fatal to the elevator, so far as getting it done in December was concerned. Perhaps she took it too seriously; for she was beginning, in spite of herself, to give a great deal of thought to the work and to Bannon. At any rate, she lay awake later than usual that night, going over the problem, and she brought it up, the next morning, the first time that Bannon came into the office after Max had gone out.
“Mr. Bannon,” she said, when he had finished dictating a letter to the office, “I want to tell you about that man that was hurt.”
Bannon tried not to smile at the nervous, almost breathless way in which she opened the conversation. He saw that, whatever it was, it seemed to her very important, and he settled comfortably on the table, leaning back against the wall with his legs stretched out before him. She had turned on her stool.
“You mean the hoist man?” he asked.
She nodded. “Max goes over to see him sometimes. We’ve been trying to help make him comfortable——”
“Oh,” said Bannon; “it’s you that’s been sending those things around to him.”
She looked at him with surprise.
“Why, how did you know?”
“I heard about it.”
Hilda hesitated. She did not know exactly how to begin. It occurred to her that perhaps Bannon was smiling at her eager manner.
“Max was there last night and he said the man had changed all around. He’s been friendly, you know, and grateful”—she had forgotten herself again, in thinking of her talk with Max—”and he’s said all the time that he wasn’t going to make trouble——” She paused.
“Yes, I know something about that,” said Bannon. “The lawyers always get after a man that’s hurt, you know.”
“But last night he had changed all around. He said he was going to have you arrested. He thinks Max has been trying to buy him off with the things we’ve sent him.”
“So our Mr. Grady’s got his hands on him!”
“That’s what Max and I thought, but he didn’t give any names. He wouldn’t take the jelly.”
“I’m glad you told me,” said Bannon, swinging his legs around and sitting up. “It’s just as well to know about these things. Grady’s made him think he can make a good haul by going after me, poor fool—he isn’t the man that’ll get it.”
“Can he really stop the work?” Hilda asked anxiously.
“Not likely. He’ll probably try to make out a case of criminal carelessness against me, and get me jerked up. He ought to have more sense, though. I know how many sticks were on that hoist when it broke. I’ll drop around there to-night after dinner and have a talk with him. I’d like to find Grady there—but that’s too good to expect.”
Hilda had stepped down from the stool, and was looking out through the half-cleaned window at a long train of freight cars that was clanking in on the Belt Line.
“That’s what I wanted to see you about most,” she said slowly. “Max says he’s been warned that you’ll come around and try to buy him off, and it won’t go, because he can make more by standing out.”
“Well,” said Bannon, easily, amused at her unconscious drop into Max’s language, “there’s usually a way of getting after these fellows. We’ll do anything within reason, but we won’t be robbed. I’ll throw Mr. Grady into the river first, and hang him up on the hoist to dry.”
“But if he really means to stand out,” she said, “wouldn’t it hurt us for you to go around there?”
“Why?” He was openly smiling now. Then, of a sudden, he looked at her with a shrewd, close gaze, and repeated, “Why?”
“Maybe I don’t understand it.” she said nervously. “Max doesn’t think I see things very clearly. But I thought perhaps you would be willing for me to see him this evening. I could go with Max, and——”
She faltered, when she saw how closely he was watching her, but he nodded, and said, “Go on.”
“Why, I don’t know that I could do much, but—no”—she tossed her head back and looked at him—”I won’t say that. If you’ll let me go, I’ll fix it. I know I can.”
Bannon was thinking partly of her—of her slight, graceful figure that leaned against the window frame, and of her eyes, usually quiet, but now snapping with determination—and partly of certain other jobs that had been imperiled by the efforts of injured workingmen to get heavy damages. One of the things his experience in railroad and engineering work had taught him was that men will take every opportunity to bleed a corporation. No matter how slight the accident, or how temporary in its effects, the stupidest workman has it in his power to make trouble. It was frankly not a matter of sentiment to Bannon. He would do all that he could, would gladly make the man’s sickness actually profit him, so far as money would go; but he did not see justice in the great sums which the average jury will grant. As he sat there, he recognized what Hilda had seen at a flash, that this was a case for delicate handling.
She was looking at him, tremendously in earnest, yet all the while wondering at her own boldness. He slowly nodded.
“You’re right,” he said. “You’re the one to do the talking. I won’t ask you what you’re going to say. I guess you understand it as well as anybody.”
“I don’t know yet, myself,” she answered. “It isn’t that, it isn’t that there’s something particular to say, but he’s a poor man, and they’ve been telling him that the company is cheating him and stealing from him—I wouldn’t like it myself, if I were in his place and didn’t know any more than he does. And maybe I can show him that we’ll be a good deal fairer to him before we get through than Mr. Grady will.”
“Yes,” said Bannon, “I think you can. And if you can keep this out of the courts I’ll write Brown that there’s a young lady down here that’s come nearer to earning a big salary than I ever did to deserving a silk hat.”
“Oh,” she said, the earnest expression skipping abruptly out of her eyes; “did your hat come?”
“Not a sign of it. I’d clean forgotten. I’ll give Brown one more warning—a long ‘collect’ telegram, about forty words—and then if he doesn’t toe up, I’ll get one and send him the bill.
“There was a man that looked some like Grady worked for me on the Galveston house. He was a carpenter, and thought he stood for the whole Federation of Labor. He got gay one day. I warned him once, and then I threw him off the distributing floor.”
Hilda thought he was joking until she looked up and saw his face.
“Didn’t it—didn’t it kill him?” she asked.
“I don’t remember exactly. I think there were some shavings there.” He stood looking at her for a moment. “Do you know,” he said, “if Grady comes up on the job again, I believe I’ll tell him that story? I wonder if he’d know what I meant.”
The spouting house, or “river house,” was a long, narrow structure, one hundred feet by thirty-six, built on piles at the edge of the wharf. It would form, with the connecting belt gallery that was to reach out over the tracks, a T-shaped addition to the elevator. The river house was no higher than was necessary for the spouts that would drop the grain through the hatchways of the big lake steamers, twenty thousand bushels an hour—it reached between sixty and seventy feet above the water. The marine tower that was to be built, twenty-four feet square, up through the centre of the house, would be more than twice as high. A careful examination convinced Bannon that the pile foundations would prove strong enough to support this heavier structure, and that the only changes necessary would be in the frame of the spouting house. On the same day that the plans arrived, work on the tower commenced.
Peterson had about got to the point where startling developments no longer alarmed him. He had seen the telegram the day before, but his first information that a marine tower was actually under way came when Bannon called off a group of laborers late in the afternoon to rig the “trolley” for carrying timber across the track.
“What are you going to do, Charlie?” he called. “Got to slide them timbers back again?”
“Some of ’em,” Bannon replied.
“Don’t you think we could carry ’em over?” said Peterson. “If we was quiet about it, they needn’t be any trouble?”
Bannon shook his head.
“We’re not taking any more chances on this railroad. We haven’t time.”
Once more the heavy timbers went swinging through the air, high over the tracks, but this time back to the wharf. Before long the section boss of the C. & S. C. appeared, and though he soon went away, one of his men remained, lounging about the tracks, keeping a close eye on the sagging ropes and the timbers. Bannon, when he met Peterson a few minutes later, pointed out the man.
“What’d I tell you, Pete? They’re watching us like cats. If you want to know what the C. & S. C. think about us, you just drop one timber and you’ll find out.”
But nothing dropped, and when Peterson, who had been on hand all the latter part of the afternoon, took hold, at seven o’clock, the first timbers of the tower had been set in place, somewhere down inside the rough shed of a spouting house, and more would go in during the night, and during other days and nights, until the narrow framework should go reaching high into the air. Another thing was recognized by the men at work on that night shift, even by the laborers who carried timbers, and grunted and swore in strange tongues; this was that the night shift men had suddenly begun to feel a most restless energy crowding them on, and they worked nearly as well as Bannon’s day shifts. For Peterson’s spirits had risen with a leap, once the misunderstanding that had been weighing on him had been removed, and now he was working as he had never worked before. The directions he gave showed that his head was clearer; and there was confidence in his manner.
Hilda was so serious all day after her talk with Bannon that once, in the afternoon, when he came into the office for a glance at the new pile of blue prints, he smiled, and asked if she were laying out a campaign. It was the first work of the kind that she had ever undertaken, and she was a little worried over the need for tact and delicacy. After she had closed her desk at supper time, she saw Bannon come into the circle of the electric light in front of the office, and, asking Max to wait, she went to meet him.
“Well,” he said, “are you loaded up to fight the ‘power of the union’?”
She smiled, and then said, with a trace of nervousness:—
“I don’t believe I’m quite so sure about it as I was this morning.”
“It won’t bother you much. When you’ve made him see that we’re square and Grady isn’t, you’ve done the whole business. We won’t pay fancy damages, that’s all.”
“Yes,” she said, “I think I know. What I wanted to see you about was—was—Max and I are going over right after supper, and——”
She stopped abruptly; and Bannon, looking down at her, saw a look of embarrassment come into her face; and then she blushed, and lowering her eyes, fumbled with her glove. Bannon was a little puzzled. His eyes rested on her for a moment, and then, without understanding why, he suddenly knew that she had meant to ask him to see her after the visit, and that the new personal something in their acquaintance had flashed a warning. He spoke quickly, as if he were the first to think of it.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll come around to-night and hear the report of the committee of adjusters. That’s you, you know. Something might come up that I ought to know right away.”
“Yes,” she replied rapidly, without looking up, “perhaps that would be the best thing to do.”
He walked along with her toward the office, where Max was waiting, but she did not say anything, and he turned in with: “I won’t say good-night, then. Good luck to you.”
It was soon after eight that Bannon went to the boarding-house where Hilda and Max lived, and sat down to wait in the parlor. When a quarter of an hour had gone, and they had not returned, he buttoned up his coat and went out, walking slowly along the uneven sidewalk toward the river. The night was clear, and he could see, across the flats and over the tracks, where tiny signal lanterns were waving and circling, and freight trains were bumping and rumbling, the glow of the arc lamps on the elevator, and its square outline against the sky. Now and then, when the noise of the switching trains let down, he could hear the hoisting engines. Once he stopped and looked eastward at the clouds of illuminated smoke above the factories and at the red blast of the rolling mill. He went nearly to the river and had to turn back and walk slowly. Finally he heard Max’s laugh, and then he saw them coming down a side street.
“Well,” he said, “you don’t sound like bad news.”
“I don’t believe we are very bad,” replied Hilda.
“Should say not,” put in Max. “It’s finer’n silk.”
Hilda said, “Max,” in a low voice, but he went on:—
“The best thing, Mr. Bannon, was when I told him it was Hilda that had been sending things around. He thought it was you, you see, and Grady’d told him it was all a part of the game to bamboozle him out of the money that was rightfully his. It’s funny to hear him sling that Grady talk around. I don’t think he more’n half knows what it means. I’d promised not to tell, you know, but I just saw there wasn’t no use trying to make him understand things without talking pretty plain. There ain’t a thing he wouldn’t do for Hilda now——”
“Max,” said Hilda again, “please don’t.”
When they reached the house, Max at once started in. Hilda hesitated, and then said:—
“I’ll come in a minute, Max.”
“Oh,” he replied, “all right” But he waited a moment longer, evidently puzzled.
“Well,” said Bannon, “was it so hard?”
“No—not hard exactly. I didn’t know he was so poor. Somehow you don’t think about it that way when you see them working. I don’t know that I ever thought about it at all before.”
“You think he won’t give us any trouble?”
“I’m sure he won’t. I—I had to promise I’d go again pretty soon.”
“Maybe you’ll let me go along.”
“Why—why, yes, of course.”
She had been hesitating, looking down and picking at the splinters on the gate post. Neither was Bannon quick to speak. He did not want to question her about the visit, for he saw that it was hard for her to talk about it. Finally she straightened up and looked at him.
“I want to tell you,” she said, “I haven’t understood exactly until to-night—what they said about the accident and the way you’ve talked about it—well, some people think you don’t think very much about the men, and that if anybody’s hurt, or anything happens, you don’t care as long as the work goes on.” She was looking straight at him. “I thought so, too. And to-night I found out some things you’ve been doing for him—how you’ve been giving him tobacco, and the things he likes best that I’d never have thought of, and I knew it was you that did it, and not the Company—and I—I beg your pardon.”
Bannon did not know what to reply. They stood for a moment without speaking, and then she smiled, and said “Good night,” and ran up the steps without looking around.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17
LIVE TALK: Calumet “K”: Ayn Rand’s Favorite Novel by Shoshana Milgram Ph.D.
“This talk offers an introduction to the background, spirit and craft of the novel Ayn Rand called her favorite. Calumet ‘K,’ she wrote, features a ‘portrait of an efficacious man’; it reflects the sense of life of ‘a time when people were capable of admiring productive achievement.’ Dr. Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, specializes in narrative fiction and film. She has lectured on Ayn Rand at Objectivist and academic conferences, and has published on Ayn Rand, Hugo and Dostoevsky. She is editing the draft of her book-length study of Ayn Rand’s life (to 1957).
Samuel Merwin and Henry Kitchell Webster
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